On the polished floor of the community center in Millburn’s Taylor Park, a small group of children sat quietly, hands folded, as their mothers chanted:"What do we want? A vote! When do we want it? Now!" while an assortment of politicians pledged obeisance to what these parents demanded: An end to the unchecked growth of charter schools.
The scene was repeated elsewhere last night, in South Brunswick and Highland Park, where this mothers’ crusade known as Save Our Schools-New Jersey pushed for the passage of laws allowing local communities a vote on permitting charter schools and subjecting the privately operated schools to strict accountability. (emphasis mine)
And Braun had it exactly right. This is a mothers' crusade; mothers that refuse to accept the top down style of leadership of Acting Commissioner Cerf and Governor Chris Christie. Perhaps Christie and Cerf thought they could come into New Jersey and tell the parents of this state how best to educate their kids, but they were sadly mistaken.
There is a reason that New Jersey's education system has such a high national ranking, which even the NJDOE has to acknowledge. It's because we have more than our share of educated, involved, committed parents. Reformers love to claim that a student's teacher is the most important factor in a child's education, but consider Richard Rothstein's response to Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee's manifesto on teacher quality:
There is a world of difference between claiming, as the Klein-Rhee statement does, that the single biggest factor in student success is teacher quality and claiming, as Barack Obama does in his more careful moments, that the single biggest school factor is teacher quality. Decades of social science research have demonstrated that differences in the quality of schools can explain about one-third of the variation in student achievement. But the other two-thirds is attributable to non-school factors.
When the president says that the single most important factor is parents, he does not mean the parents’ zip code or income or skin color, as though zip codes or income or skin color themselves influence a child’s achievement. Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee’s caricature of the research in this way prevents a careful consideration of policies that could truly raise the achievement of America’s children. What President Obama means is that if a child’s parents are poorly educated themselves and don’t read frequently to their young children, or don’t use complex language in speaking to their children, or are under such great economic stress that they can’t provide a stable and secure home environment or proper preventive health care to their children, or are in poor health themselves and can’t properly nurture their children, or are unable to travel with their children or take them to museums and zoos and expose them to other cultural experiences that stimulate the motivation to learn, or indeed live in a zip code where there are no educated adult role models and where other adults can’t share in the supervision of neighborhood youth, then children of such parents will be impeded in their ability to take advantage of teaching, no matter how high quality that teaching may be. (emphasis mine)
Reformers attempt to pit parents in "high performing" schools against parents in "failing schools", and parents across the state against the teachers that educate and care for their children.
It is time we tell them that we're not falling for their divisive rhetoric. Instead, we want a fully funded education system that works for all students and we want to work with our kids' teachers, administrators and school boards to build strong, vibrant learning communities. And yes, we even want to work with Acting Commissioner Cerf's Department of Education towards this same goal.
No one talks more about how they're only in it for the kids than Chris Cerf, as if to somehow imply that everyone's motives, other than his, are suspect.
“I say straight out that there are many, many interests at work in public education,” he explains. “There are the interests of children, of course, which everyone talks about. There are the interests of employees, who have a perfectly legitimate set of interests to guard against arbitrariness and get as much economic benefit out of their work as is possible. There are commercial interests, like vendors and publishers…. The 600 districts in New Jersey have their interests as well: in expanding their power, their authority, their institutional permanence…. But the great myth of public education is that the Venn diagram of those interests is perfectly intersecting. There are areas of substantial overlap, but many areas do not. I represent the interests of the children of New Jersey, pure and simple. When there is a conflict between interests, and you would be amazed at how many issues come my way where you actually have to make a call between one interest and the other, I’m with the children. And I make that clear.” (emphasis mine)
Notice the one interest group he doesn't mention here is parents...
And in this same unabashed love letter Peter Meyer says Cerf "is spending time establishing the process by which he will dismantle, then rebuild, New Jersey’s education system."
Note to Acting Commission Cerf. Let us be clear. New Jersey's parents will not stand by and allow you to dismantle the schools that have served so many of our children so well. Pure and simple.
New Jersey reformers like Laura Waters will no doubt continue to write off the organizers of Save Our Schools NJ as shills for the NJEA. A parent revolution is much harder to defend against.
Carlos Perez of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association clearly sees that we have numbers and that there is a whole hell of a lot of power in those numbers. Hence, Perez's ridiculous statement that the current charter approval and oversight system provides freedom from a “tyranny of the majority.”
Yeah, we wouldn't want the majority of parents in a community to get to decide how their children should be educated.
Oh, unless the majority of parents are convinced their only option is to shut a school down entirely, then by all means, give the power to the parents. Interesting how parent's have all kinds of rights if they're willing to go along with the reforms advocated by the reformers, like closing schools. But if they want to keep a school open, like Emily Fischer Charter School, well then, they just don't know what they're talking about
Last Thursday I had the honor of sitting on a panel with Dr. Diane Ravitch before she received the Education Law Center's Education Justice Award. After she received the award she recounted the story of how her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, was named Book of the Decade by a very unlikely publication; Education Next, an ed-reform journal and website (which printed the love-letter to Cerf cited above.)
Ravitch said that Education Next's Book of the Decade was chosen by popular vote - so she tweeted it, and her followers voted. When the EdNext folks saw that she was in the lead they extended the time for voting. So she re-tweeted it.
And she won.
She told this story to make it clear to those in attendance that the reformers may have money and power but we have truth and numbers.
That same night the organizers of Save Our Schools New Jersey received a Community Service Award from New Jersey Citizen Action. Here are some of the fearless mothers that were in attendance to accept the award.
And on the plaque it says the award is for their "tireless efforts to ensure that all New Jersey children have access to high quality education."
So to all the Mother Crusaders: We truly are fighting for the future of public education for ALL children, not just our own.
See you on the battlefield.